Social capital and health of older Europeans : Causal pathways and health inequalities

Social capital and health of older Europeans : Causal pathways and health inequalities

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Sirven, Nicolas & Debrand, Thierry, 2012. « Social capital and health of older Europeans: Causal pathways and health inequalities, » Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(7), pages 1288-1295.

This study uses a time-based approach to examine the causal relationship (Granger-like) between health and social capital for older people in Europe. We use panel data from waves 1 and 2 of SHARE (the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe) for the analysis. Additional wave 3 data on retrospective life histories (SHARELIFE) are used to model the initial conditions in the model. For each of the first 2 waves, a dummy variable for involvement in social activities (voluntary associations, church, social clubs, etc.) is used as a proxy for social capital as involvement in Putnamesque associations; and seven health dichotomous variables are retained, covering a wide range of physical and mental health measures. A bivariate recursive Probit model is used to simultaneously investigate (i) the influence of baseline social capital on current health – controlling for baseline health and other current covariates, and (ii) the impact of baseline health on current participation in social activities – controlling for baseline social capital and other current covariates. As expected, we account for a reversed causal effect: individual social capital has a causal beneficial impact on health and vice-versa. However, the effect of health on social capital appears to be significantly higher than the social capital effect on health. These results indicate that the sub-population reaching 50 years old in good health has a higher propensity to take part in social activities and to benefit from it. Conversely, the other part of the population in poor health at 50, may see their health worsening faster because of the missing beneficial effect of social capital. Social capital may therefore be a potential vector of health inequalities for the older population.

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